Should Hibs have followed Hearts’ blueprint
HEARTS were rightly lauded last season as they cruised to a record-breaking win in the Ladbrokes Championship that secured their promotion back to the Premiership at the first time of asking.
Having flirted with extinction the year before, it was a remarkable achievement of which everyone involved could feel justifiably proud.
But the less said about the abject failure in the three cup competitions they were involved in the better.
The Tynecastle club were thrashed 4-1 in the Challenge Cup in August after their manager Robbie Neilson branded it a “development competition” and handed five teenagers their first team debuts. They then lost heavily to Celtic both in the League Cup in September and in the Scottish Cup in November.
Those defeats, though, meant Hearts were free to focus exclusively on the league in the final five months of the 2014/15 campaign.
They lost on just three occasions in 22 outings during that time – to Falkirk in January and then to Rangers and Hibs in April after the title had been won – achieved their main objective with seven games remaining and racked up 91 points.
Will, I wonder, Hearts’ great Edinburgh rivals Hibs come to regret their pursuit of silverware on more than one front this season? The Easter Road club’s involvement in the League Cup final last month was, despite the painful loss to Ross County, enjoyed by their supporters, over 30,000 of whom crammed into Hampden.
Their meeting with Rangers in the final of the Scottish Cup – a tournament they have, infamously, not triumphed in since way back in 1902 – next month is eagerly anticipated by their eternally optimistic fans.
But is it any coincidence the sparkling form Alan Stubbs’ charges showed as they came from eight points behind to draw level with Mark Warburton’s men at the top of the second tier table has disappeared during the second half of the season given their punishing schedule of matches?
Hibs have now played 47 games in total and have two league fixtures remaining. If they fail to leapfrog Falkirk and finish second they will have to successfully negotiate six Premiership play-off matches in order to win promotion. After all that, they will then have to take part in the Scottish Cup final.
It all proved too much for Rangers, admittedly a far older team, last year. Their legs gave way in the two-legged play-off final and they crashed to a 6-1 aggregate defeat to a Motherwell team which had been involved in 10 fewer games. Stubbs has persuaded Hibs to invest in sports drinks which he hopes will give his player energy and aid their recovery in the coming weeks.
I fear there is little chance any of them will be quaffing champagne, either for winning a place in the Premiership or lifting the Scottish Cup, any time soon due to an admirable if ill-considered refusal to concentrate on the Championship.
AND ANOTHER THING
The chilling prophecies of impending financial Armageddon in Scottish football made by so many when Rangers were placed into the Third Division back in 2012 have proved inaccurate since.
Peter Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive, revealed two years ago that the absence of their city rivals from the top flight was costing the Parkhead club in the region of £10m a season.
Nevertheless, the Scottish champions have continued to perform well financially, despite their failure to qualify for the Champions League both last season and this, due to the sale of players and a prudent business plan.
Other Ladbrokes Premiership clubs have positively flourished. Aberdeen, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Ross County and St Johnstone have all enjoyed great on and off-field success.
Inverness posted a record profit of £254,240 at the end of the last financial year – before they had won the Scottish Cup final or Ryan Christie had been transferred to Celtic for £500,000. Yet, having Rangers competing in the Premiership in the 2016/17 campaign will ease the considerable struggle many clubs have had to break even.
Kilmarnock announced last week they had made a loss of £724,406 for the year to May 30, 2015. Jim Mann, their outgoing chairman, confirmed “losses of this scale are unsustainable” and are “a major concern”.
The increased crowds and revenues which they will experience next season as a result of their Ibrox rivals’ competing in the same division will be welcomed by them and many others.
No disrespect to Aberdeen, who have launched gallant challenges in the league, but I am looking forward to seeing a meaningful Scottish title race once again and a more buoyant elite league in general.
TOMORROW Nick Rodger
Will, I wonder, Hearts’ great Edinburgh rivals Hibs come to regret their pursuit of silverware on more than one front this season?
WRONG CHOICES: Hibs manager Alan Stubbs has seen his side slump, in part due to their cup commitments